Annan urges world community to save young refugees from life without hope

“At an age when they should be dreaming of life’s limitless possibilities and building up their skills in preparation for adulthood, they are instead bound by the harsh reality of poverty and displacement, and condemned to what often seems to be a life without hope,” Mr. Annan said in a message marking World Refugee Day, dedicated this year to refugee youth. Noting that boys as young as 15 are forced to fight in “somebody else’s conflict, often for reasons they cannot possibly comprehend,” and girls are victims of sexual abuse, he said: “They (boys) are among the more than 300,000 young people between the ages of 15 and 17 fighting in some of the world’s most violent wars. Even if they escape death or injury, they are traumatized for life by the brutality of the experience. “And while boys can end up as cannon fodder, young female refugees are often the prime targets of abuse, especially in areas where the social position of women and girls is weak,” he added. Stressing that young refugees “need our help” to enjoy the brighter future offered to other children, Mr. Annan noted the ample work already being done by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other UN agencies, through educational and other youth-related programmes. “But while humanitarian involvement can help to ease the hard lot of young refugees, it can never be a substitute for serious and sustained efforts to find solutions for the problems that cause displacement in the first place,” he said. “On World Refugee Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to saving future generations from growing up without hope.” For his part, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, spoke of his experience in the field and the “intensity and enthusiasm” of young people studying in often makeshift classrooms in the many camps he has visited. “Despite the many hardships, young refugees are driven to learn and to excel because they know that education may be their only way out. They refuse to give up hope in a future that still holds promise,” Mr. Lubbers said in a message. “We must not deny them this hope, because their future is also our future.”Adding his voice to the appeal, the President of the UN General Assembly, Jan Kavan of the Czech Republic, urged all Member States to be sensitive to the special needs of young refugees and called on donor countries to support UNHCR and other refugee agencies in their attempts to keep pace with the world’s refugee crises. He noted that “an impressive” 1 million refugee children are currently enrolled in UNHCR-supported educational programmes but there are still, many eligible children without access to this basic human right, particularly at the level of secondary education.

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